The contraceptive pill, usually called just “the pill” is one of the most used birth control methods.
It’s called the combined pill as well, to distinguish it from the minipill: The combined contraceptive pill has a combination of oestrogen and progesterone that stops the production of eggs and thus prevents the woman who takes it from getting pregnant. The minipill contains just progesterone, and thus can be used by women who are breastfeeding their babies. It is less effective, though.
However, we don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s go to the birth control method we’re going to describe in detail today: the contraceptive pill. In the following lines, you will find all the information you need about it, so don’t miss it if you’re looking for an effective birth control method!
How does the contraceptive pill work, exactly?
The oral contraceptive pill is one of the hormonal birth control methods – which means that it prevents pregnancy by using hormones. We’re sure you already know how pregnancy happens, but let us refresh your memory, just in case: When we women ovulate, our ovary releases a mature egg. If there is sperm hanging around in our system because we had sex recently, that egg could be fertilised by the sperm, implanted in the uterus… And voilà! Here we have a pregnancy.
So what does the contraceptive pill do, exactly? The oestrogen and progesterone it contains will inhibit the cyclical hormones that make the releasing of the egg possible. That way, no matter how much you have sex, there will be no mature egg to be fertilised, and pregnancy won’t take place.
But as if inhibiting ovulation weren’t enough, the hormones of the contraceptive pill have other accomplishments as well: They provoke changes in your cervical mucus to prevent the sperm from passing through the cervix. They also do their little trick in the uterus, to make implantation more difficult. So, if you take the contraceptive pill, you’ll be totally armoured against an unwanted pregnancy!
How effective is the contraceptive pill?
Very, if taken correctly! The birth control pill has an effectiveness of 99,9%, so there is little margin for sneaky mature eggs to get away. But you have to remember to take it every day!
Sold! I want to use the contraceptive pill as a birth control method. What do I do?
First, talk to your doctor or gynaecologist about your decision to use oral contraceptives so he or she can evaluate if it’s a good fit for you. If you finally decide on the contraceptive pill, you can start taking it right away, but if it’s not the first day of your menstrual cycle you will need another birth control method during the first days, since you won’t be completely protected against pregnancy.
If you start the first day of your cycle (which is the first day of your period), you will be protected right when you start. Once you’ve started, you will need to take the contraceptive pill every day or during 21 consecutive days, depending on the type of pill – which we’ll see in detail later in this article.
What do I do if I forget to take it?
You need to take the contraceptive pill at the same hour every day, but if you forget to take one and remember it that very same day, take it as soon as you realise that you forgot it. If you don’t remember during that day at all, you can take two pills the following day. Things change if you forget the pill for more than two days, though. Call your doctor for further instructions.
However, either you forget to take the contraceptive pill for one day or for more, you should use an additional method of contraception such as the condom as well as the pill until you finish the pack. As we’ve explained above, the pill armours you against pregnancy in several ways, but if you don’t take it every day at the same hour, you increase your chances of releasing an egg.
Is the contraceptive pill an adequate birth control for me?
Well, that depends. Using contraceptive pills as a birth control method requires some organisation, since you have to remember to take the pill every day. The forgetful kind has nowadays many options to be reminded of taking the pill: you can set a daily alarm in your mobile, or use an app – and the package of the pill itself is organised by days. However, if you’re especially absent-minded, maybe you could think of another more permanent birth control method such as the IUD.
Before starting to take the pill, you should talk to your gynaecologist so he or she can evaluate if it’s the best option for you. You should also consider the rest of contraceptive methods, since you may find a best fit for you and your lifestyle than the contraceptive pill.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the contraceptive pill?
The main advantages of the contraceptive pill is that it reduces the risk of ovarian, womb and colon cancer. They protect against pelvic inflammatory disease and can help with PMS. Besides, they don’t interrupt sex because you don’t need to remember to put it before starting the fun! Of course, we can’t forget its main advantage either: that 99,9% of effectiveness!
They have disadvantages too, since there are some birth control pill side effects as well. They used to be very common, but nowadays less women are affected. These side effects can be:
- Mood changes
- Dizziness, nausea and headaches
- Irregular bleeding
- Breast sensitivity
Besides, there is some risk of blood clots in women who smoke and are older than 35. Some women claim that the pill made them put on weight or gave them acne. However, the effects usually improve in three months’ time.
There are some positives to the side effects of the contraceptive pill as well, which can count as another advantage! They tend to make periods lighter and help with menstrual cramps – in fact, they are sometimes prescribed to those women who have irregular and painful periods.
Other disadvantages of the contraceptive pills are that they can increase blood pressure and that its use has been linked to conditions such as breast cancer, although that hasn’t been proven. Besides, they don’t protect against STDs, since they are not a barrier birth control method.
Who shouldn’t use the contraceptive pill as birth control?
In some occasions, the contraceptive pill isn’t recommended for reasons related to some of its disadvantages, like the risk of passing blood clots (thrombosis). Doctors don’t recommend it if:
- You are a smoker or older than 35 (due to the risk of blood clots)
- You suffer from thrombosis
- You suffer from migraines
- You have high blood pressure or heart disease
- You have diabetes (although check with your doctor, since it can be allowed in some cases)
Are there different types of birth control pills?
Yes. There are some that have to be taken during 21 days, followed by a pause of 7 days, and some that have to be taken during the 28 days of the cycle, but that include 7 with a placebo – that is, with no effect. This is done so you don’t forget to start a new pack in the exact day you’re supposed to.
During the last few years, new formulas have appeared in the market with no placebo at all, and the same amount of hormones in all of the pills, and some extended-cycle ones with 84 active pills and 7 placebos. But whatever pill you choose, if you follow the instructions correctly and don’t forget to take any, you will be protected against pregnancy. Check with your doctor to see which option is best for you.
Can I take the pill after having a baby? And after having a miscarriage?
Yes, you can. If you just have a baby and you are breastfeeding, you can’t take the combined contraceptive pill, though, since the oestrogen could pass to the baby through the milk. Progesterone is safe for the baby, so you can take the minipill, which will protect you slightly less (around 97% of effectiveness) but will have no side effects for your little one. If you’re not breastfeeding, you can use the contraceptive pill, but you will have to wait until exactly day 21 after birth. If you wait longer, use an additional birth control method for 7 days.
After suffering a miscarriage or having an abortion, you can also start taking the pill – just wait for 5 days after the event.
Now you know all the basics about the contraceptive pill! However, if you still have some doubts, don’t hesitate to ask your gynaecologist for some more information.